Monday, September 16, 2013

TV Quote of the Day (‘Frasier,’ With Niles Showing Brotherly Love)

Dr. Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer): “You're a psychiatrist, you know what it's like to listen to people prattling on endlessly about their mundane lives.”

Dr. Niles Crane (played by David Hyde Pierce): “Touche. And on that subject, I heard your show today.”—Frasier, Season 1, Episode 1, “The Good Son,” teleplay by David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee, directed by James Burrows, air date September 16, 1993

Frasier, which premiered on this date 20 years ago, could have been a mildly successful spinoff, the way that Rhoda and Lou Grant sprang from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or crashed and burned in virtually no time, like After M*A*S*H. Who would have thought the offspring of Cheers'--with psychiatrist-barfly Frasier Crane landing in Seattle, all the way on the other side of Boston--would last 11 seasons and 263 episodes in its own right?

Part of the show’s longevity, I’m convinced, is the mantra recalled by co-creators Casey and Lee, on the first season DVD: “No stupid characters, no stupid jokes.” Moreover, they gave their audience credit for intelligence by letting scenes run longer than the norm and by high-end pop-culture references (e.g., the anecdote in this episode on film star Lupe Velez’s death).

Casting was critical because of the interplay of characters. Surprisingly, the normally marvelous Lisa Kudrow did not work out well as Roz, so the role of Frasier’s feisty assistant ended up going to Peri Gilpin.

Even more critical, of course, was the casting of David Hyde Pierce as Niles. The surprising resemblance between Pierce and Kelsey Grammer was probably the most felicitous case of a supporting actor looking like the series’ star since Vikki Lawrence appeared on The Carol Burnett Show.

It allowed the creators of Frasier to depart from the normal comic instinct of creating friction with opposite characters. That wouldn’t have to worry about a source for that—it would be supplied, in spades, by Frasier’s father Martin, a blunt, decidedly plebeian cop shot in the line of duty and now requiring home care.

No, the creation of Niles—and his brilliant embodiment by Pierce—enabled the show to create a fraternal doppelganger for Frasier. When the brothers did disagree about something, it was like Frasier arguing with himself. And when Niles got his own double—in the episode when home health aide Daphne Moon dates a guy who looks, talks, and even acts like Frasier’s persnickety brother—the results were enough to create a perfect comic storm. ("I can't talk now, Duke," an astonished Martin tells a caller. "I'm in the Twilight Zone!")

(The picture accompanying this post was shot in Cafe Nervosa--a great place for psychiatrists to go trolling for clients, of course...)

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